If you’re like millions of people around the world, chances are good that your daily health routine includes multivitamins or other vitamin supplements. For decades, you’ve been told that taking vitamins can protect your health and even ward off disease. There’s new evidence to suggest that most people don’t need to take vitamin supplements at all, and they may simply be throwing money away.
A large-scale scientific study published in 2013 in the Annals of Internal Medicine caused many people (and their doctors) to question the need to take vitamin supplements each day. These studies were conducted in high-profile universities and hospitals in both the US and the UK, and the findings were startling. There was no definitive evidence to suggest that taking vitamin supplements could improve longevity or lower the odds of contracting diseases, which turned what many people have believed for a lifetime on its head. Should you still be taking that multivitamin? Per the evidence, it’s probably not necessary, and it may even do more harm than good in some cases.
Most vitamin supplements are marketed to the public with the idea that they aren’t getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need from their diets. With so many people relying on fast food or meals that take only a few minutes to prepare at home, this is easy enough for people to believe. The truth is that most people in both the US and the UK don’t consume the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables, which are some of the most vitamin-packed foods on the planet.
Despite this fact, research shows that most people get plenty of the recommended vitamins and minerals from their diets. There are a couple exceptions to this: folic acid and vitamin D. Pregnant women are encouraged to take folic acid vitamin supplements before and during pregnancy to ward off neural tube defects, and it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D out of your diet, even if you follow guidelines for nutrition. For this reason, many people can benefit from a vitamin D supplement, especially if they spend most of their time indoors. In either case, you should speak with your doctor before taking any vitamin supplements at all.
The vitamins you know are either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are harmless; you simply excrete what your body can’t use when you urinate. Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are different. These vitamin supplements, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K, will continue building up in your body over time because they are not water-soluble and your body cannot readily eliminate them.
Studies have found that too much of any of these fat-soluble vitamins can create some serious effects. For example, too much vitamin E might increase your risk of cardiac disease, and too much vitamin A can weaken your bones. Too much of a water-soluble vitamin isn’t quite as serious, but it can still produce some undesirable effects. Consuming a large quantity of vitamin C when you’re only slightly dehydrated can cause digestive issues including nausea and diarrhea, and if you continually take in too much vitamin C, it can increase your susceptibility to painful kidney stones.
Something else to consider before you pick up your next bottle of vitamin supplements is the fact that the FDA doesn’t regulate these like they do actual medications, including those obtained through a prescription and those you buy over the counter. This means that the bottle of vitamin C you picked up at the market may contain ingredients outside of those listed.
To put this into perspective, the Attorney General of New York State conducted a study at some of the nation’s most prominent stores that sell vitamin supplements, including drug stores like Walgreens and department stores like Walmart. Shockingly, they found that four out of five of the tested vitamin supplements didn’t contain the concentrations of vitamins, herbs, or minerals listed on the bottle. They also found that there were fillers in these products, including asparagus, wild carrot, and even rice, that weren’t listed at all.
With all this information in mind, you’re probably wondering whether you should continue taking the multivitamin you’ve purchased faithfully for years. Per the research, vitamin supplements may do more harm than good over time unless you have a vitamin deficiency. The best way to find out is to schedule an appointment with your doctor and ask him or her to test your individual vitamin levels. This will give you a clear idea of what your body needs.
Vitamin supplements can also benefit individuals who do not have access to a variety of foods that would provide the entire spectrum of needed vitamins and minerals. This extends to children, especially, who need those vitamins for healthy growth and development. Some children are notoriously picky eaters, which leads their parents to believe that they aren’t getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need. Believe it or not, vitamin deficiencies in children are also quite rare. You should discuss your concerns with your physician before giving your child a daily multivitamin, too.
Most people have taken vitamin supplements all their lives with the belief that they could ward off cancer, heart disease, and other conditions by taking a pill each morning. The truth is that there is no one cookie-cutter pill that will protect everyone, and most people don’t need multivitamins at all. If you have concerns, take them up with your doctor, and if it turns out that you’re deficient in a certain vitamin, take a quality supplement containing only that vitamin.